SIBELIUS; STRAVINSKY Violin Concertos (Zhi-Jong Wang)
The Chinese violinist Zhi-Jong Wang made her debut at the age of 14 under Yehudi Menuhin and later won First Prize in the 1998 Yehudi Menuhin International Competition. Despite a Lucerne Festival recital, she doesn’t have a high-profile career in the West and is currently Associate Professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Her new disc pairs contrasting concertos from the beginning of the 20th century – one in D minor, one in D major. In the booklet interview, Wang talks about Sibelius’s Violin Concerto being dark and introverted, while she sees the Stravinsky as exciting, laced with irony, integrated into the orchestra like a Baroque concerto grosso. It makes for a refreshing programme.
There’s less of an icy chill about the opening to the Sibelius than other recent accounts from Jennifer Pike and Vilde Frang. Wang is lyrical, placed well in front of the Philharmonia, offering trusty but unexciting support under Michael Sanderling. She paces the opening Allegro moderato steadily, with secure technical playing but without whipping up too much excitement. There is tremendous warmth in the Adagio, a little schmaltzy perhaps, before a finale that errs on the side of caution.
Wang’s Stravinsky is stronger than her Sibelius. There’s punch and pungency to her playing, and she clearly enjoys herself in the opening Toccata, while Aria I is taken at a good lick. Hilary Hahn finds more fun in the fourth-movement Capriccio – Wang is a little pedestrian here – but this is a fine account. She closes the disc with a solo by Lu Pei entitled Drama: Beijing Opera, which has a haunting, if not particularly Chinese quality, sensitively played.